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What is Matter? Barbara Gail Montero City University of New York Wesleyan University Center What is Matter? Barbara Gail Montero City University of New York Wesleyan University Center for the Humanities November 16, 2015

There is an old joke about matter. . It’s not true! However, after grappling There is an old joke about matter. . It’s not true! However, after grappling with the concept of matter, an answer I will suggest to the question “what is matter, ” will resonate, to a degree, with both of the intended meanings of the response, “never mind. ”

So what is matter? People use the term in a variety of ways. The So what is matter? People use the term in a variety of ways. The plan: • Briefly present eleven different conceptions of matter. • Examine which, if any, captures what the materialist/physicalist means when she claims that “everything, including consciousness, is material. ” • Ponder the philosophical relevance of these results.

Why is the question “what is matter? ” philosophically important? Many reasons, but I Why is the question “what is matter? ” philosophically important? Many reasons, but I shall focus on one: we need an understanding of what matter is in order to understand thesis of materialism (everything, including the mind, is composed of matter). Why is it important to understand materialism? According to the contemporary philosopher Hillary Putnam: “Materialism is the only metaphysical picture that has contemporary “clout. ” But there are much more important reasons as well.

From historical conceptions, most of which have some echo today, to contemporary uses of From historical conceptions, most of which have some echo today, to contemporary uses of the term in physics, philosophy and everyday language. *Matter in contrast to form “Statuary is the art of giving matter form. ” Aristotle contrasted matter and form: form gives actuality to matter, like the whole gives actuality to its parts. Tight connection between matter and form.

*Matter as extension René Descartes (1596 -1650) writes: “extension in length, breadth, and thickness *Matter as extension René Descartes (1596 -1650) writes: “extension in length, breadth, and thickness constitutes the nature of corporeal substance (Principles of Philosophy). He contrasted matter (res extensa) with mind (res cognitans). Note that his conception of res extensa is fairly mathematical and thus abstract. “Colours, odours, savours and the rest of such things, were merely sensations existing in my thought” (Reply to the Sixth Objection).

*Matter in contrast to pure ideas John Locke (1632 -1704 ) made a distinction *Matter in contrast to pure ideas John Locke (1632 -1704 ) made a distinction between primary qualities and secondary qualities. George Berkeley (1685 -1753) argued, however, that we can never know that the substance or matter behind the secondary qualities exists and is better done without.

Samuel Johnson (1709 -1784) didn’t buy it: From James Boswell’s (1791) biography of Johnson: Samuel Johnson (1709 -1784) didn’t buy it: From James Boswell’s (1791) biography of Johnson: After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter, and that everything in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it, “I refute it thus. ” If you can kick it, it’s matter.

*Matter as what fills empty space. This is a bit complicated since there is *Matter as what fills empty space. This is a bit complicated since there is both a sense in which matter, itself, is mostly empty space and a sense in which empty space is teaming with matter. Matter is mostly empty space in the sense that the sold objects that we see around us are mostly empty space, in the sense that, as Sir Arthur Eddington (1928) put it, his writing table—which “has extension. . . [and] is comparatively permanent [and] above all. . . substantial—is nonetheless “mostly emptiness. ” Empty space teaming with matter: We have, for example, plenty of 02 molecules in the “empty space” in this room. And even outside of our atmosphere, even in intergalactic space, one comes across molecules, if only rarely. Moreover, in all that space between the molecules, space is not empty but rather replete with the electric and gravitational fields.

Nonetheless, there is a conception of matter as what would fail to exist in Nonetheless, there is a conception of matter as what would fail to exist in a perfect vacuum, “A vacuum is a space devoid of matter. ” This is a negative definition, telling us what matter is not: a perfect vacuum. But negative definitions are sometimes acceptable: what is darkness? The absence of light. Of course, it is not clear that a perfect vacuum is possible.

A variation of matter as what fills empty space: what came into existence at A variation of matter as what fills empty space: what came into existence at the big bang: Fred Hoyle, who coined the phrase big bang (though was also a doubter) explained it as “the hypothesis that all the matter in the universe was created in one big bang at a particular time in the remote past” (Hoyle 1949).

*Matter as concrete. Concreta exist in space or time. (You’ll see why these are *Matter as concrete. Concreta exist in space or time. (You’ll see why these are separated presently. ) Abstracta exist in neither time nor space. Some problems: The equator is not an actual line around the earth so might seem abstract. However, it did come into existence at a certain time. You can call the equator and other such objects “mixed objects. ” Ye have a conception of matter (or at least of what matter isn’t) in claims such as: “The abstract world of mathematics is a world entirely devoid of matter. ”

*Matter as math Tegmark’s (2014) idea that the world is made out of equations: *Matter as math Tegmark’s (2014) idea that the world is made out of equations: “Our physical world not only is described by mathematics, but it is mathematics. ” How can it have mass? Mass is a number.

*Matter as opposed to antimatter. Antimatter is like matter, but reversed: the same mass *Matter as opposed to antimatter. Antimatter is like matter, but reversed: the same mass as matter but with opposite qualities, such as charge. From the CERN press office: “The big bang should have created equal amounts of matter and antimatter in the early universe. But today, everything we see from the smallest life forms on Earth to the largest stellar objects is made almost entirely of matter. But one also finds: ordinary matter as opposed to antimatter

*Matter as Mass “Photons are not made out of matter. ” Along similar, though *Matter as Mass “Photons are not made out of matter. ” Along similar, though not identical lines: “Matter is affected by the four fundamental forces: gravitation, electromagnetism, strong nuclear force, weak nuclear force. ” Not quite the same as mass=matter since the mediators of the weak nuclear force, the W and Z bosons, have mass.

*Matter as Energy “Then came theories of special and general relativity. Matter and energy *Matter as Energy “Then came theories of special and general relativity. Matter and energy were suddenly brought into a kind of equivalence, famously described by Einstein’s equation E=mc 2. ” But note that the term “matter” doesn’t occur in the equation. And there is also matter in contrast to Energy. “Only about 4% of the visible universe is ordinary matter; about 23% is dark matter, and about 73% dark energy. ”

*Matter as whatever it is that physics studies. “Matter is whatever physics studies and *Matter as whatever it is that physics studies. “Matter is whatever physics studies and the object of study of physics is matter: there is no independent general definition of matter, apart from its fitting into the methodology of measurement and controlled experimentation. ”

*Matter as whatever exists What the big bang brought into existence on one picture. *Matter as whatever exists What the big bang brought into existence on one picture. God, light and the whole shebang on another.

Take Matter as opposed to antimatter out of the running. Which or the remaining Take Matter as opposed to antimatter out of the running. Which or the remaining conceptions ground materialism (everything is matter) and the mindbody problem (how could the mind be made of matter)? Which conception is such that if not everything is matter, then materialism is false?

Let’s vote: 1. Matter in contrast to form 2. Matter as extension 3. Matter Let’s vote: 1. Matter in contrast to form 2. Matter as extension 3. Matter in contrast to pure ideas 4. Matter as what fills empty space 5. Matter as concrete 6. Matter as math 7. Matter as Mass 8. Matter as Energy 9. Matter as whatever it is that physics studies 10. Matter as whatever exists

Matter in contrast to form. Aristotle held that the soul was the form of Matter in contrast to form. Aristotle held that the soul was the form of the body (De Anima Bk. II). Resembles Functionalism (for example, pain just is pain-behavior plus other mental states, such as the hope that it will stop). Materialism would not be defeated if form exists. What we want is a conception of matter such that if there exists something that is not made out of matter, materialism is false. My criterion for adequacy: what would best make sense of the current debate. The Cartesian soul should turn as immaterial.

*Matter as extension Point particles Abstracts What gives rise to space-time Could an immaterial *Matter as extension Point particles Abstracts What gives rise to space-time Could an immaterial soul have extension?

*Matter in contrast to pure ideas If idealism is true, materialism is false. But *Matter in contrast to pure ideas If idealism is true, materialism is false. But is the only way for materialism to be false?

*Matter as what fills empty space Certainly a very reasonable conception of matter. But: *Matter as what fills empty space Certainly a very reasonable conception of matter. But: If a pure vacuum exists, then materialism is false? If there were nothing, materialism wouldn’t be false. The falsity of materialism seems to turn on the existence of a nonmaterial object.

*Matter as concrete Similar considerations as those applied to matter as extension. One further *Matter as concrete Similar considerations as those applied to matter as extension. One further problem: if immaterial souls were to exists in time but not in space, materialism should be false yet such souls would be concrete. (Concrete opposes abstract, which is neither spatial nor temporal. )

*Matter as math This is close to Bertrand Russell’s “structural realism. ” But Russell’s *Matter as math This is close to Bertrand Russell’s “structural realism. ” But Russell’s conclusion is that “physics does not assume the existence of matter. " David Chalmers: “current physics characterizes its underlying properties (such as mass and charge) in terms of abstract structures and relations, but it leaves open their intrinsic natures”(2002, p. 259). But if there is something beyond structure and relations, why must it be immaterial?

*Matter as Mass Why should the immaterial soul be barred from having mass? Materialismusstreit *Matter as Mass Why should the immaterial soul be barred from having mass? Materialismusstreit (the controversy over materialism) Physiologist Rudolph Wagner aimed to discredit materialism by weighing brains, claiming that if the mind is purely material, more intelligent people should be endowed with heavier brains. Data didn’t support his hypothesis according to his materialist opponent Carl Vogt (1864). The attempt brings out the concept of an immaterial mind as having mass. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the physician Duncan Mc. Dougal had a similar idea: do people get lighter at the moment of death?

*Matter as Energy Sometimes matter is contrasted with energy: The view that the universe *Matter as Energy Sometimes matter is contrasted with energy: The view that the universe consists only of organized matter and energy Main problem, there could be immaterial energy.

*Matter as whatever it is that physics studies This captures a commonly expressed view *Matter as whatever it is that physics studies This captures a commonly expressed view among philosophers: Materialism (or physicalism) is the view that the fundamental nature of the world is given to us by physics. But what physics do we have in mind?

Hempel’s dilemma: Either we understand the physics at issue as today’s, in which case Hempel’s dilemma: Either we understand the physics at issue as today’s, in which case physicalism is almost certainly false, or we understand it in terms of a future physics, in which case thesis is excessively vague. Beyond this, if physicalism is defined in terms of a true and complete theory of the universe, thesis of physicalism is trivially true, for what else is a true and complete physics but one that accounts for the fundamental nature of everything? Furthermore, if physics posits fundamental phenomena, the existence of what at least many would see as nonphysical phenomena turns out to be consistent with physicalism.

*Matter as whatever exists The central line of defense for this view is that, *Matter as whatever exists The central line of defense for this view is that, as Isaac Newton pointed out in the seventeenth century, the more we learn about matter, the stranger it seems: Before Newton, causation was thought to occur only via contact.

Causation was a problem for Descartes’ theory of mind and body. Princess Elizabeth of Causation was a problem for Descartes’ theory of mind and body. Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia writes: [I]t seems every determination of movement happens from an impulsion of the thing moved, according to the manner in which it is pushed by that which moves it, or else, depends on the qualification and figure of the superficies of this latter. Contact is required for the first two conditions, and extension for the third. You entirely exclude extension from your notion of the soul, and contact seems to me incompatible with an immaterial thing (May 1643). Basically: since an unextended mind can never make contact with an extended body, mind-body causation seems impossible. Descartes’ new he was bested so wrote back saying that it was probably best that she does not think about such things.

But Newton’s discovery of gravity changed this. That one body may act upon another But Newton’s discovery of gravity changed this. That one body may act upon another at a distance through a vacuum, without the mediation of any thing else. . . is to me so great an absurdity, that I believe no man who has in philosophical matters a competent faculty of thinking, can ever fall into it (Newton to Bently, 1962 correspondence).

Einstein’s (1915) theory of general relativity superseded Newtonian gravity. However, in terms of the Einstein’s (1915) theory of general relativity superseded Newtonian gravity. However, in terms of the intelligibility of matter, things have only gone from the absurd to the ridiculous. Noam Chomsky (1993, p. 41) puts it well: It is difficult to arrive at a “delimitation of ‘the physical, ’ [or of matter] that excludes Fregean ‘thoughts’ in principle, but includes mathematical objects that ‘push each other about, ’ massless particles, curved space-time, infinite onedimensional strings in 10 -dimensional space, and whatever will be contrived tomorrow. ”

A number of philosophers have thought that the difficulty of drawing a line between A number of philosophers have thought that the difficulty of drawing a line between matter and mind has some serious implications for the mind-body problem: In an underappreciated passage of his Encyclopaedia Gottlieb Hegel (1830/1971, § 389) tells us: “the soul is no separate immaterial entity, ” not because the soul or mind is material in the sense of solid, weighty matter, but rather because matter is far less material than is often presumed. “in modern times, even the physicists have found matters grow thinner in their hands, ”

 Now the question of mind–body dualism dissolves: “[T]he question of the immateriality of Now the question of mind–body dualism dissolves: “[T]he question of the immateriality of the soul has no interest, except where, on the one hand, matter is resolved as something true, and mind conceived as a thing, on the other. ” As matter thins, so does the problem of the relation between mind and matter, for if matter is, as Hegel sees it, just as mysterious as mind, there is no question of either materialism or immaterialism.

And Hegel sees this as solving the type of problem Princess Elizabeth raised for And Hegel sees this as solving the type of problem Princess Elizabeth raised for Descartes: In Hegel’s words, “the usual answer [as to how to understand the interdependence between mind and body], perhaps, was to call it an incomprehensible mystery; and, indeed, if we take them to be absolutely antithetical and absolutely independent, they are as impenetrable to each other as one piece of matter to another, each being supposed to be found only in the pores of the other, i. e. where the other is not. ” But physics then, and even more so today, fails to suggest a conception of matter, wherein matter is diametrically opposed to mind.

Today we have Time Crane and Hugh Mellor: “There is no question of physicalism. Today we have Time Crane and Hugh Mellor: “There is no question of physicalism. ” Noam Chomsky’s point: whenever we accept something as actually existing, we call it material or physical. This dissolves the mind-body problem rather than solves the problem of explaining what grounds the mind-body problem.

Is there anything else? Physics may have blurred the line between mind and matter, Is there anything else? Physics may have blurred the line between mind and matter, but we can still make a distinction between mind and everything that is not the mind, between the mental and the nonmental. Fundamental material objects as those that are not mental. What is matter? “Never mind” in the sense that it is not mental

This is sometimes called the “via negativa” definition of the physical or material. And This is sometimes called the “via negativa” definition of the physical or material. And the via negativa definition of materialism does capture to a large degree what most contemporary philosophers have in mind when they either uphold or denounce materialism.

But there is also a sense in which the other meaning of “never mind” But there is also a sense in which the other meaning of “never mind” is the correct answer to the question “What is matter? ” Though not entirely irrelevant, it does not matter much what we call a metaphysical view, whether we identify the mind as material or immaterial. What matters is our understanding of the nature of the mind: For example: Did consciousness evolve on earth from more simple nonconscious entities? I see this as our contemporary mind-body problem and I think it remains even after the physicists have thinned out matter to its limit. And our answer to it arguably affects our attitude towards religion, our lives, and our world view.

 Those are matters that matter. Thank you Those are matters that matter. Thank you